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"See them pass,
A young, a beautiful, and happy band!
Of sunlight days and moonlight nights, abode
If the readers would know how fortune, as well as nature, dealt with these fair creatures, would make the acquaintance of Helen or of Lucy, of "bonny Maud" or of that "blithe" maid-
"who went about
Her very dairy work with air so grand,
More like a Duchess at her bridal rout!"
he must obtain this pleasant calendar for himself. We must not, however, omit to notice the author's skill in metrical composition. We are here forcibly reminded of the marvellous compass of the terza rima of Dante, even as cultivated in our harsher tongue. The measure to whose music the great bard traversed the fields of Paradise and the plains of Hades, is found equally adapted to the movements of natural joy and sorrow which belong even to the humblest country life. This is the test of a great stanza, proving it to be framed neither in vanity nor caprice, but founded on principles of harmony and truth analogous to those of poetry itself.
The poem is published anonymously; but it bears little of the character of a first production. Of the author's sex the internal evidence is not quite decisive. The style of art is masculine, but the sentiment is feminine throughout. "The hands truly are Esau's hands, but the voice is the voice of Jacob."
The Golden Age, and other Poems. By Alexander Gouge. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue, and Co.
THIS book hardly keeps the promise of its flattering title and beautiful exterior. While we are glad to find, from the author's preface, that he is "prepared against failure," we are sorry to learn, from the same authority, that he not only hopes for, but "anticipates, success." We fear his merits as a poet are too small to establish his character as a prophet. The volume, however, is very elegantly dressed in green and gold, and will serve the chief purposes of a drawing-room table-ornament,-to be taken carefully up, and put as gently down. Thus treated, it may outlast many a book of more vulgar interest and merit.
Brief Literary Notices.
Thoughts and Sketches in Verse. By Caroline Dent. Arthur Hall, Virtue, and Co. 1854.
ALWAYS polished and melodious, the verses of this lady are marked by an occasional felicity of thought which indicates the presence of poetic gifts. The bulk of the volume does not, however, rise above the level of just reflection embodied in smooth and measured language. Even this degree of merit is not attained without a concurrence of advantages, without more than the average talents and accomplishments: but the difficulties of true poetry are not appreciated by the reading public, too busy, or too idle, to be arrested by any thing less than its most conspicuous triumphs, and only roused out of the mood of thankless indifference by sentiments of admiration and delight.
The History of Political Literature, from the earliest Times. By Robert Blakey, Author of the "History of the Philosophy of Mind." Two Vols. London: Richard Bentley. 1855.
Ir is somewhat remarkable that no work has hitherto appeared in this country, professing to record the progress of political literature. Though more interested than other people in the advance of mankind towards rational liberty, and occupying a front rank amongst its assertors and defenders, in the field and in the legislature, we have seldom contemplated the subject in its scientific aspect. Political writers have appeared in all ages, exercising considerable influence, and frequently producing a permanent effect upon the Government of the time; but their labours have not been examined with a view to elicit principles which may take their place in a system of political philosophy. The temporary and local purpose answered, such writings have retired into obscurity, and have been, perhaps, less read than those of any other class.
Mr. Blakey has thought it time to attempt a sketch of the existing writings upon political and social philosophy. He has eminently succeeded in this attempt, and has produced a work of great importance and interest; although the portion now published is likely to be exceeded in attractiveness by that which is yet to appear. The two volumes before us bring down the work to the year 1700; the third will include the entire eighteenth century; and the fourth will complete the survey to the present time. We certainly did not expect to find so much agreeable reading in a class of literature which we are apt to imagine is somewhat dull and tedious in the retrospect.
Russia. By the Marquis de Custine. Murray. 1854.
The Englishwoman in Russia. By a Lady. Murray. 1855. THE sudden inroad of books upon a popular and engrossing subject is apt to perplex the choice of inquirers; and not the least useful duty of our office is to point attention to those of the truest merit. This
brief indication is all that our space admits of in the present instance. Some of our readers may be yet imperfectly acquainted with the countries forming the theatre and subject of the present war, and to them we recommend these admirable volumes. If not the most recent, they are among the most valuable of their class. De Custine has long been known as a conscientious and intelligent traveller. His opportunities for observation were unusually good, and his statements may be thoroughly relied upon. His pages present a full and interesting picture of life and manners in the Russian Empire, from the Imperial Court down to the hovels of the poor and scattered peasantry. With such ample details as are there supplied the reader is independent of the author's judgment, and naturally forms opinions for himself. Captain Spencer's volume has less of personal interest and social detail, but is valuable as the fruit of extended observation and experience. It is even more comprehensive than its title indicates; for, besides the regions there enumerated, it contains, at the commencement, two or three chapters on the state of Hungary. The work of the " Englishwoman" is a record of ten years' residence, not in one, but in many parts of the Russian Empire. The author's acquaintance with Muscovite society and scenery was necessarily intimate and varied, and in some matters perhaps less exceptional in its character than that of a traveller of rank such as the Marquis de Custine. The narrative is lively and interesting. On the whole it is decidedly unfavourable to the social habits and institutions of our enemies; but there is no evidence that this tone is adopted to flatter a mere national prejudice, and adapt it to the present market.
Pictures of Life and Character. By John Leech. London:
THE names of Leech and Doyle stand at the head of a long list of comic artists, who have arisen during the last ten years. For some time they maintained a friendly rivalry in the pages of "Punch," before that ancient jester lost his wits. But unfortunately A'Beckett left, and Doyle left, and Thackeray left, and only Leech is left to keep Mr. Punch's show standing. We have placed the two names together; but it is almost necessary to consider each separately, for their styles present more points of contrast than of comparison.
It is very rarely that an artist attains a high degree of perfection in two branches of his profession; that a painter combines landscape and history. But Leech is so truly a master of the highest branch of his art, that some of his pictures excite the same feeling as the serious poetry of poor Hood,-a regret that comic art should so exclusively occupy his attention. For instance, here is a background hardly two inches square, yet it represents a beautiful undulating landscape, dotted with trees stretching away for miles. These trees, though so minute, are not merely sketched in, but are carefully filled up with due attention to light and shade; and the whole is finished with a delicacy and truthfulness that Birket Foster might envy. Numberless examples, on a larger scale, might be given: most
Brief Literary Notices.
279 of his river and hunting pieces are perfect studies of English scenery. Doyle, on the contrary, rarely gives much background, and still more rarely attempts natural scenery; if he does, he fails. Take the "Evening on the Lago Maggiore:" the clouds look far more like water than the Lake itself, which you would not recognise but for the boat upon it; the mountains are much too low, and their outline is as stiff and angular as any sketch of the Pyramids; the margin of the Lake is a hard straight line, without a single bend or projection to break its monotony; and of distance you gain no idea. Contrast with this one of Leech's evenings at the sea-side,say, "Romance and Reality." The heavy, but not too opaque, masses of cloud; the effect of moonlight on the water, on the two figures in the foreground, on the beach wet with the retiring tide, on the shrimper, especially at the knees, against which the water breaks,these are some of the touches which almost give to a wood-engraving the effect of colour.
His purely comic sketches are of an equally rare order. He is not dependent upon such aids as the monstrous heads of Doyle, or the goggle eyes and impossible mouths of Thackeray, or the mediaval quaintness of Tenniel. There is, on the contrary, a remarkable absence of exaggeration. His men and women we meet a dozen times in a day; we know his butchers' boys by sight, and their nags too; his omnibus cads and Hansom cabbies drive us regularly through the city; and his poor little swells, who are so mercilessly shown up, are recognised at a glance. The fidelity of his interior scenes is very striking. Not only do the members of the family group lounge, stand, or sit, in natural and easy postures, but all the accessories are in the most perfect drawing. The very paper on the wall, the D'oyley on the table, the half-dropped embroidery, with the position of the needle and fingers, are depicted with the truth of a photograph. Not less true than the air of comfort invariably thrown around home life, is the cheerlessness and discomfort which a bachelor's establishment as invariably displays. We are shown an untidy room, the books all awry on the shelves; the one footstool upset, just as it was left the night before. Enters the slip-shod maid of all work; her hair scrambled under a limp cap, her left hand on the door-handle, and her right holding up an apron, evidently too dirty to be fully displayed; and the bachelor himself, poor fellow! with an old dressing-gown huddled about him, and his loose neckerchief already half untied, looking helpless and forlorn enough to excite pity in all gentle bosoms. But, for an example of perfect expression, turn to that well-known breakfast scene in a countryhouse, where, with reference to a fishing excursion, Master Tom orders sundry lob-worms and grubs to be brought in for his inspection. Note the evident disgust (not too strongly marked) on the maternal countenance; all done by one or two lines about the eyebrows, assisted by a gesture of the hand, but as effectually done as by the most laboured skill. Even better still is the face of the cabman, who intimates to his recent fare, in the presence of her five children, that no one can be a gentleman who belongs to her: the eye and mouth are more than expressive, they are eloquent; and this without being overdrawn.
So remarkable is the fidelity, and so complete the mastery of the pencil, that it is possible to detect varieties of colour; to distinguish fair hair from dark hair, hands that are white and delicate from hands that are coarse and red, and pale complexions from those that are florid. A hunting sketch, in one of the recent Numbers of "Punch," represented a very stout old gentleman, wrought up by hard riding to a highly apoplectic condition: it was easy to see from the contrast with his grey whiskers, that his cheeks were actually purple. We can almost detect motion in some of our artist's happiest efforts,-say, the one in which the tottering old spinster is telling Mr. Tongs that her hair still comes off; as she dresses at the glass, you can see the old woman's hands fumble at her bonnetstrings; the cabman before noticed is evidently retiring sideways to his vehicle, keeping his face to the enemy; the ornaments that Mr. Briggs has knocked off the mantel-piece are not simply drawn in mid-air, they are falling; his figures on the ice are not merely standing on skates, but they skate; his dogs all but bark; and when you cannot cross a saddle yourself, the next best thing is to look at Mr. Leech's horses.
Up to a certain point exaggeration is an aid to humour,-beyond that point it defeats its own object. A "situation" loses its drollery in proportion as it exceeds the bounds of possibility; and when it loses our sympathies, it also excites the opposition of our judgment. This over-exaggeration is Mr. Doyle's weakness, and is seldom long out of sight. In the outline of the "Review," Robinson is seen clinging to the neck of a rearing horse, both of them in impossible attitudes; in the foreground is a grenadier considerably taller than the carriage horses; a little to the left is a bi-clouded German, five feet high by four feet wide; and in the background is a member of the band performing zealously on a trombone which is nearly nine feet long. When the trio visit the Jews' Quarter at Frankfort, they see a Hebrew countenance, the exact counterpart of its fellows, protruded from every window in the street. With just half the number, the effect would have been twice as comic. When Jones is arrested, it is by a small regiment of soldiers, and so on, ad libitum. Doyle, too, presents his situations complete, at their climax, perhaps past it. He leaves nothing to the imagination; whereas Leech often leaves an hiatus, which each one fills up for himself, and which adds considerably to one's enjoyment. Here is a scene up the river: three individuals in a punt are in a happy, contemplative, vinous state; one is standing up, lazily smoking a dry" pipe; while another remarks how greatly he enjoys the delicious repose. But it is left for us to see, that in half an instant their repose will be rudely broken in upon by a Thames wherry, pulled with frantic energy by two equally oblivious amateur rowers, and that the erect gentleman in spectacles will inevitably conclude his meditations in a cold bath.
Mr. Doyle appears to have studied human nature from an isolated position, not from the centre of a home circle. His only interiors are illustrative of club life, or public assemblies, or occasionally an evening party. His female faces display little variety of expression; and child life, in its thousand attractive forms, he never touches. He loves the town, not the country, nor country sports. Mr. Leech, on